Tips for building an effective training organization

If your business plan includes implementing an in-house training organization, here are some tips to help you get off on the right foot.

Tight time lines! Loose guidelines! Low management support! High management expectations!

Does this sound like a regular day at your office? Trainers routinely face challenges similar to these. Over the years, I’ve tried various methods to stay ahead of the eight ball, and here’s the system that works best for me.

Revise your thinking on trainer-to-staff ratios
There is no magic number here. Some companies can get by with 1:200 ratios. Other firms struggle with ratios as low as 1:50. Rethink the ratio in terms of staff-to-product development ratio.

The formula that seemed to work for me was to assume a trainer-to-staff ratio of 1:200 and decrease that ratio by 50 percent for every hour of training module development required in a month.

Example: If your company requires one hour of new product training per month, lower the 1:200 ratio to a 1:100 ratio. If your company requires two hours of new product training per month, lower the 1:200 ratio to 1:50.

A start-up company that is cranking out proprietary software (or software enhancements) is in greater need of training support than an established company. Ironically, while start-ups have a greater need for training development, they have far fewer resources than their more established counterparts.

Leverage other knowledge pools
Labor shortages are a chronic and global issue facing technology firms. Budget constraints can also prevent training managers from hiring large numbers of trainers. Many training projects are time-limited and don’t justify adding a full-time person to the payroll. Here are some ways to build a training staff, without adding headcount:
  • Build a pool of “part-time trainers” as loaners from other departments. Many people enjoy training and see it as a chance to gain visibility in the company. This approach works well for short-term assignments with modest time commitments.
  • Don’t start from scratch. Marketing and IT groups usually have working documents that provide a “quick-and-dirty” overview of most company technology. With a little tweaking, these overviews could be your best training materials yet.

Move from a training organization to knowledge management organization
This concept can greatly improve efficiencies. Here’s what I mean. Start by looking at your training team as a group of functional experts. Next:
  • Assign critical functions to each trainer.
  • Set the expectation that each trainer becomes an “expert” in that function. (Example: John is assigned to developing end-user documentation on proprietary databases; Mary is assigned to end-user documentation to support the intranet and Web-based applications.)
  • Provide each trainer with a subject matter expert (SME) to serve as a mentor and problem solver. Entry-level employees make great SMEs. (Example: John’s database SME is Sam, a database programmer—level 1.)
  • Set aside a predetermined amount of time every week for knowledge sharing within the training team. These mini train-the-trainer sessions allow everyone to have a working knowledge in functional areas.
  • Use these functional assignments to enhance performance, not limit it. Trainers should be expected to train on all topics.

Develop a competency-based model
Trainers routinely waste time training people who aren’t prepared to be trained, don’t need to be trained, or aren’t ready to be trained. A competency-based model helps eliminate this. Here’s how it works:
  • Have a set list of prerequisites for each training module. Prerequisites can be assessed through either successful completion of a more elementary module or through a pretest. If a person can’t complete a prerequisite, that person shouldn’t be in the class.
  • Don’t train folks who don’t need the training. All training modules should have post-tests to assess mastery of skills. Let people take the post-test as a pretest. If someone knows enough about a subject to pass a test without taking a course, why waste that person’s time and yours? The trick to this is creating post-tests that replicate real-life scenarios.
  • Only train employees who are ready to use the product. This rule sounds simple. However, it seems to frequently be ignored. Just-in-time training has its drawbacks (most notably, scheduling). But the payoff is huge. People can apply the lessons learned immediately. There is less of a chance of losing knowledge and more opportunity to assess the effectiveness of training as a method to increase on-the-job productivity. Just-in-time training works wonderfully in tandem with train-the-trainer programs that identify a pool of cross-functional training partners from other departments.

Utilize train-the-trainer programs to shift the delivery responsibility
A great source of trainer burnout is classroom overload. A good way to lighten the instruction load of your training staff is “task share” with other managers, supervisors, and even frontline employees within the company. A training staff can spend 40 hours training an eight-hour module to five separate groups, or spend 10 hours training five facilitators. Those five facilitators can then train the members of their teams as time allows. The benefits of this concept are numerous:
  • Functional managers are empowered to schedule just-in-time training that targets department needs and is not constrained by training staffers’ schedules.
  • Your staff is freed from the burden of scheduling multiple trainings.
  • Your staff is free to develop and implement more training programs.
  • Other functional departments have the opportunity to develop leaders and “on-the-job” trainers and coaches.

As technology changes more and more rapidly, trainers will be increasingly challenged to come up with better ways of developing turn-key solutions that support the IT world. The challenges pose great opportunities for great ideas.
We want to hear about some of the ways you have gained efficiencies in your organization! Post a comment below or drop us a note.

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